Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Japan, 1956. Toho Company. Screenplay by Toshirô Ide. Cinematography by Masao Tamai. Produced by Sanezumi Fujimoto, Masakatsu Kaneko. Music by Ichiro Saito. Production Design by Satoru Chuko. Film Editing by Eiji Ooi.
A family at a crossroads comprises the nucleus of this elegant domestic drama. Hideko Takamine, as always exquisite in radiating repressed emotions, plays a woman living with her husband and mother-in-law, running a store that adjoins their home and looking to expand the shop by adding a café next door. Her husband’s brother comes for what appears to be a visit with his wife and little daughter, but it soon becomes clear that he lost his high powered office job in Tokyo and is relying on them to put them up while he gets back on his feet. Takamine’s Kiyoko is not averse to her brother’s imposition but she is upset when her husband considers giving him a big loan of money not long after they’ve borrowed a huge sum from the bank for their business plans. She can express displeasure but, ultimately, must abide by whatever decision her husband makes, since what is at the heart of just about every whispered conflict in this story is an examination of the nonsensical nature of cultural patriarchy, the fact that sometimes a woman has the better idea but must give way to the man’s declared superiority. Rather than hammer the message home, director Mikio Naruse throws the issue into the complications of life’s dire twists and delightful turns, including Takamine’s head being turned away from her dour husband by a handsome bachelor (Toshirô Mifune fitting the bill beautifully) who loves her cooking and offers a glimpse at a different life. The scenes play out in short bursts that, when combined, make for an emotionally potent experience, each small moment delicately executed with subtle acting and controlled direction, with a plot that in description is never particularly notable yet by the end feels devastating.